Marco Polo

At the Court of the Khan: Netflix’s Marco Polo

Let’s be honest with each other for a minute: our historical movies and television in 2018 are still overwhelmingly, almost-hilariously, Eurocentric. Indeed, at least half a dozen of the shows on my (long, long) list of things to watch focus on the English/British monarchy alone. When I learned of Netflix’s drama recounting the travels of Marco Polo through Central Asia and China, then, I couldn’t wait to try it out. Sure, it would still be somewhat Eurocentric, but at least some underserved regions and periods of history had the possibility of being fully realized onscreen. Towards that end, my hopes would prove to be realized in full.... Read More
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Sweet, Sweet Nostalgia: Reaction and “Reform” throughout History

“Make America Great Again.” These four words have become one of the most infamous phrases in the English language since the successful presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump, and with good reason. How do we define great? Who thought things were great? If we aren’t great now, when were we great, and when did we stop being so? Far from originating with Trump, this idea, that somehow the United States has lost its way from the glory of its just-out-of-reach past, has taken hold in the psyche of certain disaffected sections of its population. Though this reactionary sentiment may sound dissonant to the modern ear, it actually fits quite smoothly into a much longer historical tradition of cloaking nostalgic navel-gazing in terms of reform and progress.... Read More
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Not Quite A Balance: Jeff Shaara’s The Frozen Hours

The Shaara name should be familiar to any concerned with American military history. Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels and its onscreen adaptation, Gettysburg, have had a great impact both on the public memory of the Battle of Gettysburg and the interest of legions of budding historians of all ages in the American Civil War more generally. The strength of Shaara’s prose lay in his ability to tell history as a personal story through the viewpoints of the players involved, and his son Jeff has made a career applying this same style to a number of the United States’s wars. Indeed, my own fascination with more modern history came as a result of reading not The Killer Angels but The Glorious Cause, Jeff’s novel on the Revolutionary War. His most recent work covers events during the Korean War, focusing on the plight of the 7th Marine Division around the Chosin Reservoir in 1950.... Read More
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Episodic History: Bryan’s Picks

In just a few days, Friday will see the premier of the much-anticipated movie Dunkirk, which tells the story of the World War II battle of the same name in which British and French forces were evacuated across the English Channel by civilian watercraft under the guns of the Third Reich. When done well, all of us here at Concerning History love seeing history on the big and small screens, as it seems to bring the past to life with a vibrancy and immediacy lacking in other media as well as powerfully impact public perception and memory of events. The number of history-related series on television or streaming services especially has blossomed in recent years. We all have our special interests, though, and can’t help but pine for some of our pet topics to get the attention we know they deserve. In what we hope will become a long-running series, I’ve decided to pull together a list of a few historical events and periods I feel would make for highly compelling or necessary television.... Read More
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Dueling Perspectives: John Keay and J.A.G. Roberts’s Histories of China

Some months ago, as Francis and I were discussing a potential piece for the blog, I realized I needed to brush up on my grasp of Chinese history. Perusing the shelves of my local library, I happened upon two promising volumes. The first, China: A History, was penned by esteemed journalist John Keay, while the second, A Concise History of China, was written by English academic J.A.G. Roberts. Faced with a more public, accessible volume on the one hand and an academic’s historical survey on the other, I decided to read them both and then compare them in a rare tandem review.... Read More
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Grand Prize, or Honorable Mention? The Case of American Settler Empire

Last week I undertook to unpack the question “What was history’s greatest empire?” In so doing, I discussed numerous possible criteria while refraining to ever actually answer the question. For those looking for my final answer in this post I make no guarantees you will be satisfied, but perhaps I can supply a more solid proposal than last time.... Read More
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A World Afire: Empires at War, 1911-1923

The Great War has come to be known as the First World War for rather obvious reasons. For four years it engulfed the globe in a conflict the magnitude and ferocity of which had never before been seen. This violence extended so far outside of Europe as a direct result of its key belligerents’ imperial holdings. Despite this, a preponderance of Great War history has focused on the infamous Western Front specifically and the war in Europe more generally. In this edited volume of articles, Robert Gerwarth and Erez Manela have assembled an array of perspectives that attempt to realign that focus, casting our attention not only beyond the confines of Europe but outside of the standard periodization of the war years as well.... Read More
Britannia Mongol

Size, or How You Rule It? Determining History’s Greatest Empire

One fall morning in 2015, as I sat in my Training and Methods course in the Oxford History Faculty, my peers and I were pressed for the answer to a question rather unorthodox for a room full of academics: what was the greatest empire in history? Asked by the late, redoubtable Dr. Jan-Georg Deutsch, the question compelled us all to silence as we contemplated what was so obviously a trap, yet equally a tantalizing opportunity for debate. Boldly (perhaps one might say brashly), I ventured an answer that attempted to dissect the question... Read More
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Greater than Its Parts: The Prospect of Global History

The Prospect of Global History is different than any book I have reviewed thus far. Part manifesto and part proposition, its chapters do not generally seek to argue any particular thesis but rather to elaborate on the analytical framework of the subdiscipline and, through seven case studies, illuminate how that framework can be fruitfully applied across topics and eras.... Read More
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Crucible of the World: Peter Frankopan’s The Silk Roads

From its main title, one could be forgiven for assuming this book to be simply a regional study of Central Asia. Yet Peter Frankopan's The Silk Roads: A New History of the World begins with much loftier goals. Having been fascinated with the history of the broadly-defined Middle East in his youth, Frankopan asserts that he is here to posit a new method of understanding history: one that challenges European narratives of inevitable triumph and restores Central Asia to its place as the fulcrum of world history. In the process, however, The Silk Roads delivers simultaneously more and much, much less than Frankopan promises.... Read More